One of Phil’s earliest memories is of being taken to Manchester’s Gaumont Cinema to see the film of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II‘s The Sound of Music (book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse) after it had just opened.
This family outing came with the added thrill of knowing that it would probably take up to a year to reach his local, The Vista, Westbury*. He’d never been to such a grand cinema before, tickets had been booked in advance and he recalls being fascinated by a fountain on the staircase up to the circle. As you never needed to book in advance at The Vista and its “circle” was only 2 steps higher than the stalls, it’s hardly surprising he was beside himself with excitement.
But above all he remembers becoming moist around the eyes as Maria got hitched to Captain Von Trapp. The scene came after the intermission (hands up if you’re old enough to remember films with intermissions) but Phil’s tears were of joy for Maria, despite her annexing a Captain with seven children. Now he’d be weeping for other reasons and looking forward to their appearance on The Jeremy Kyle Show.
Perhaps that should have come with a SPOILER ALERT, but we assume you know the story. Anyhoo this is the stage version which is slightly different from the film. It’s quite discombobulating to hear “My Favorite Things” sung in the Nonnberg Abbey, “The Lonely Goatherd” performed on the bed during the thunderstorm, the ‘Baroness’ Elsa Schraeder (Caroline Keiff) singing the songs that were cut from the film and seeing the family gunned down by Nazis rather than making it over the mountains at the end. Ok, made that last bit up, it’s not that different, unless you count the dinosaurs.
So, for those of you’ve who have somehow avoided it. Maria Rainer is a tree-climbing, knee-scraping, dress-tearing, curler-wearing, waltzing, whistling flibbertijibbet of a postulant who has difficulty fitting into Abbey life, so she’s dispatched by the Mother Abbess (Helen Hobson, very good) to be governess to a starchy widowed captain’s kiddie-winkies, winning them (and their father) over with her gift for music.
All this is set during the Anschluss on an effective yellow single set (Peter McKintosh) which, with subtle changes suggests the Abbey, the Von Trapp household and the Kaltzberg Festival stage. Plus the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre offers a surrounding of real shrubbery for the family to hide in during their escape, the steeply raked “auditorium” Maria’s mountains for her entrance and there’s a moat constructed round the stage for the children to splash in during “Do-Re-Mi”.
Charlotte Wakefield‘s Maria has a hint of a another Maria about her, a young Maria Friedman. She’s utterly delightful, feisty, likeable and energetic, completely overcoming the almost impossible obstacle of not being Julie Andrews. Michael Xavier‘s Captain has a touch of a young Rupert Everett; he’s stiffer than a film fluffer’s handiwork until he becomes helpless to Maria’s charms. When he eventually joins in with his children’s rendition of “The Sound of Music” a shiver ran up Phil’s spine and he almost blubbed again, an emotion that returned during the concert rendition of “Edelweiss”.
Elsa is wonderfully flouncy against Michael Matus‘ Max’s engagingly pompous bluster, splitting the audience at a panto-style curtain call to boo or applaud depending on the character.
But what of the kids? Well, they’re extraordinary. Each manages to define a character in their own right and they sing and dance splendidly (choreography Alistair David). Which ever team were on this night were drilled to perfection. How do they do it?
The open air setting is perfect for Rachel Kavanaugh‘s terrific production which comes with some impessive touches. The air fills with incense during the wedding and it’s especially effective during the climactic concert. Despite knowing the ending it’s remarkably tense as Nazis fill the auditorium and searchlights spin blindingly across the pitch black auditorium as if the new
Walkie Talkie Laser Building had found a job moonlighting at Regent’s Park.
Utterly delightful. And if you think The Sound of Music is too saccharine-sweet for you, bear in mind there’s topical themes of religious fanaticism, child neglect, asylum seekers, political appeasement and recycling (those curtains!) to ease you through.
They should bring it back to the park next year. Perhaps they should bring it back ever year. Apparently it’s the highest grossing production in the theatre’s 81-year history. Quite right too.
Andrew couldn’t come, he was leaving nothing to chance and got behind finishing off his waterproof dirndl. A shame really as he’d have loved it. The weather, as it happens, couldn’t have been more perfect.
Well there has to be something to whinge about doesn’t there? But a bleepy mobile phone warning 15 minutes before the show starts clearly isn’t sufficient. Why not a spoken announcement immediately before the band strikes up? A young woman was constantly fiddling with her phone in the row in front of Phil and even worse filming all the musical numbers. Phil did a Shenton and tackled her at the interval (she wasn’t within reach to do it during the performance), solving the problem for Act 2 (which is half the length of Act 1, so the damage had been done). She was young and rather surprisingly she apologised. An announcement might have prevented this irritation in the first place.
*Sadly The Westbury Vista burnt down. If only they’d had a fountain.
Here’s the Manchester Gaumont with Mary Poppins playing next door. Apart from this, can there be such a thing as too much Julie Andrews?